When unearthing ancient objects, archaeologists can reasonably accurately interpret the objects' uses from their shape or size. Indeed, with everyday objects like cooking pots, cups and plates, there is little difficulty identifying these items as you would expect to find evidence of such items in ancient settlement. However, sometimes the purpose of an object can be far more mysterious, as is the case with this Saxon Window Urn that workers found in Kempston during building work in 1857.
Found in a Saxon grave, a report from the time stated that shortly after the initial discovery of the vessel, "the men found another skeleton, in a crumbling state; and near the lower jaw a number of pieces of metal, thin and of the size of a florin; a quantity of small beads, apparently of glass; and fragments a twisted wire".
The urn is beautifully handcrafted and has 14 flutes that the potter carefully modelled to create an almost symmetrical finish. Incised and impressed patterning decorates the shoulder of the pot, and most intriguing of all is a piece of Roman glass that has been inserted into the base of the vessel, which led to it gaining the moniker of "Window Urn."
Although not unique as there have been other Window Urns discovered elsewhere in the UK and Europe, the Kempston Window Urn is part of a rare group of vessels that feature this glass inclusion. This group continues to be a source of debate as we still do not know the window's function. However, researchers have put forward several theories over the years, including suggesting that the glass was simply for decorative purposes or there was a ritualist purpose to the inclusion.
What is clear is that these vessels are of incredible beauty and require specialised skills to create. We have carefully recreated this vessel using similar tools and techniques (but not real Roman glass, which would be a travesty) to create a vessel that is as faithful to the original as we can get.
Notes of the Bedfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society, dated February 1857, describes,
"the discovery of a unique specimen of Saxon pottery. It is unburnt clay of a dark brown colour, 31/2 inches high, of beautiful proportions, and has 14 deep flutings from the shoulder to the base. It is not however in the outline or ornamentation that its peculiarity exists, for there have been several urns discovered in this country exhibiting somewhat similar design and workmanship; but on being carefully cleaned it was found to have a piece of glass about an inch in diameter inserted into the bottom" The report goes on "This is the first and only instance of glass being let into the clay by the Saxon potter which we have met with, and the discovery has created great interest amongst antiquarians."
The original Kempston Window Urn is now part of the collection at Bedford Museum.
Earthenware, reduction fired. Coloured glass
Approx. 95 mm tall, 155 mm diameter
As with all my Museum Quality Replicas, we have made this pot, as the original would have been, entirely by hand from natural clay and using replicas of the types of tool that the ancient makers would have used. During the firing process, the glass that creates the window in this urn does change shape and colour, making every urn different. These changes can result in small bubbles forming, varying colours in the glass, superficial cracks or a concave shape to the glass inclusion. These variations all add to the individual character of each piece. As each pot varies, you may not receive the same cup in the image, but you can be sure that your pot will be one of a kind due to the variations caused by the firing process.
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